Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in Lancashire to meet author and painter Ruth Hunt and to have a nosey around her bookshelves. Before we do though do grab yourself a cuppa and some of those biscuits and let’s get to know Ruth a little better…
I live in West Lancashire and I’m a writer, putting together features for The Morning Star, and the occasional article for other publications. My debut novel, The Single Feather is out now, about a paraplegic young woman, trying to forge a new future despite a traumatic and abusive past. I also paint, mainly for commissions, though I do have paintings in galleries and exhibitions. I’m currently studying Creative Writing with the Open University. I’m disabled following a nasty accident when I was 18. I emerged with ‘life-changing injuries’ which includes spinal cord injuries and an amputation. One of the ways reading is so important to me, is most of the time I’m housebound, only getting out when I have help. Books are my social life.
Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?
My TBR books are on my coffee table. If I like the book, I then have the first problem, which is I have no more shelf space. So if I REALLY love a book, I take out one that isn’t loved as much, and put it in its place. ‘The book that isn’t loved as much’, will end up in a pile somewhere, usually in my study. The books I don’t get on with go to my mum or my cleaner, who then will either read them or take them to a charity shop. I have a cull each time I move, but it’s never a drastic cull – maybe four or five carrier bags. I quickly find I have more books than I culled in my new home in a matter of weeks.
Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?
Whenever I move, I start off with organised shelves, usually organised according to genre. However, that doesn’t last. Looking at my shelves today you wouldn’t think that five years ago they were organised. The only shelf that has a semblance of order is one row in my study with lots of ‘How to Write’ books. I obsessively buy these, usually around 11:30pm at night, when I’m at my most vulnerable for impulse buying. As my shelves are so disorganized, I sometimes have to locate books using old photo’s I’ve taken of my bookshelves. It’s a reliable method, so if you are disorganized like me, regularly take photos of your bookcases.
What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?
The first book I bought with my own money was called Flowers in the Attic by Virginia C Andrews. It was very popular in school, and so I used some of my Saturday job money to buy it. I’m 99.9% certain it’s not on my shelves now. However, I found a school library book the other day, so you never know!
Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?
I do hide guilty pleasures on my shelves, often using postcards and ornaments to hide books I feel embarrassed about. I also have a space behind my TV where I discreetly hide them. The book that earns the spot as a current guilty pleasure is ‘Where’s Nigel?’ All it is, is cartoon pictures of events with lots of people at it, and you have to spot where Nigel Farage is. For some reason it makes me chuckle every time I open it.
Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?
When my dad died, my mum gave me all his poetry and set texts he had during his university days. He died when I was a teenager, and I’m to this day sad, that I never chatted to him about his love of books. So, I would plead with a fireman to save those. The other book I’d want to save has already been moved out of my house to my mum’s wardrobe and no, not in anticipation of a fire! I won a beautiful copy of Birds Drawn for John Gould by Edward Lear, which is a Folio Illustrated book with a print enclosed and a signed letter from David Attenborough from The Guardian. It was worth £899 when I go it, and so I’m hoping it appreciates in value over time. Jokingly, I say it’s to pay for my mum’s care costs when she’s older, but we both know it’s more than likely to be me that needs it first.
What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?
My dad was a vicar and my mum is a churchgoer too, so when I was a child I remember seeing a lot of CS Lewis on their bookshelves. When I first had a flat, I bought a couple of his books but really struggled with them. Recently I’ve had another go at reading a CS Lewis novel, but I didn’t find it a pleasurable experience.
If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?
If I really love a book, say for example All Involved by Ryan Gattis, then even though I had a proof copy I had to buy the book. Sometimes, I might buy something on Kindle which turns out to be great – then I will buy the book even though I’ve read it on Kindle. I do re-read books, and I see them as a visual representation of my life, almost like photographs in an album. I’ll pick up a book and remember where I was when I first bought it, who I was with and what year it was and so on. I also put cuttings from newspapers that are related to the book inside. So I can pick up a book and a faded and yellow tinged review from the 1980’s will tumble out…
What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?
The last book I added was The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood. I got it signed in my local independent bookshop and devoured it in the evening. His description of the creative process was spot on, and got me in the mood for painting!
What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?
I’m really not sure what they would think. I hope they would think I’ve got a broad taste, though that’ not strictly true as my books are probably heavily weighted towards the literary end of things – you won’t find many crime or romance books, or that much non-fiction.
A huge thanks to Ruth for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can find her on Twitter here. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Ruth’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?